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Jewish World Review / August 26, 1998 / 4 Elul, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell "Doing a good job"

ONE OF THE MANY thoughtless phrases being thrown around is that Bill Clinton is "doing a good job" as president, even if his personal behavior leaves a lot to be desired. At the heart of that "good job" is the fact that the economy is doing well, so that he must be "running the country" right.

No president has ever run this country. Any president is lucky to keep the executive branch of government reasonably under his control. It is doubtful whether any president in our times could even name all the federal agencies, much less tell you what each one of them is doing. It takes an army of presidential aides just to keep track of the armies of bureaucrats.

I can remember a past president looking surprised when I mentioned a certain government policy to him. He looked at his aides, who nodded that this was indeed the policy, and his sigh suggested that he did not think much of that policy, though the political realities kept him from changing it.

This is not new. For centuries, kings, emperors, czars and sultans had to struggle to keep their own governments from getting completely beyond their control. The only people who could seriously be said to "run the country" have been 20th century totalitarian dictators -- and most of those dictatorships ended in disaster.

As for the economy, it is precisely the defeat of Bill Clinton's spending plans by the Republican Congress that has given us a balanced budget. For more than 200 years, all spending bills have originated in the House of Representatives, despite the current mindless practice of speaking of deficits and surpluses as if they were created by presidents.

When the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives after 40 years, they lost the ability to continue engaging in deficit spending. Yet Clinton has never lost his ability to confuse the issues, so he is able to claim credit for the surplus.

Another reason for a good economy is that the kinds of crippling interferences from government that Clinton and his political allies would like have a tougher time getting through a Republican Congress. In other words, the president is being thwarted from attempts to run the economy, much less the country.

That is why things are going so well that gullible people keep repeating that Clinton is doing a good job.

There are other areas where presidents do have great influence and lasting impact. Clinton's legacy in these areas is very disturbing -- but only to those who think ahead, not to those who think only of "me" and now.

Nowhere does a president's impact matter more, long past the time when he is in office, than in the military defense of this country. It takes years to build modern weapons systems and to train military personnel in the operations of all the sophisticated equipment on which our survival depends. What one president does or does not do affects future presidents and the future of the country.

Clinton is skimping on the military, while directing the government's resources toward things with more immediate political pay-off, like welfare state spending and social engineering schemes.

Just as Ronald Reagan's expanded military spending during the 1980s provided the high-tech equipment that enabled President Bush to win the 1991 Gulf War with remarkably low American casualties, so some future president may have to fight with much higher American casualties because he inherited a military force undermined by the policies of Bill Clinton.

Young Americans may have to die needlessly, not only because of the legacy of Clinton's military policies, but also because he went around the world making commitments, so that he could "look presidential" and distract attention from his personal scandals.

The questions being raised as to whether the recent American military strikes at terrorist bases in Afghanistan and the Sudan were made to change the subject from Monica Lewinsky show the larger consequences of what Clinton supporters keep calling the president's "private sex life."

A president's credibility -- at home and abroad -- is essential to doing his job and there is nothing private about the consequences when that credibility is squandered, for whatever out.

8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.